Just because people stopped paying attention to Ebola doesn’t mean it’s gone

By Annalisa Merelli

As many as 28 countries are at risk of for the next Ebola epidemicaccording to a new report published by Save the Children. Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Niger and 17 other countries lacking in health infrastructure could all be part of the “next Ebola Zone.”

 The focus on the next outbreak, along with a decrease in public attention, might appear to signal that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa epidemic is over.
Late last week, the US announced the end of its mission in Liberia, which began five months ago in an effort to tackle the largest Ebola epidemic in history. Months ahead of what was expected, the American troops are leaving the country, where new infections have been winding down, with only eight new recorded cases in the last week.
In announcing the successful end of the mission, US Army Major General Gary Volesky said:

“While our large scale military mission is ending… the fight to get to zero cases will continue and the (Joint Force Command) has ensured capabilities were brought that will be sustained in the future.”

Indeed, while there’s been progress, we still haven’t reached zero cases.

The epidemic is worse now than it was earlier in the year in Sierra Leone, where the latest data show a resurgence of cases since early February with 63 new cases were reported. The number of new cases in Guinea has been 35 for the last week, and 52 the previous one—a decreasing trend that follows an increase in early February.
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Several factors have contributed to the new cases, including the difficulty in controlling a virus that can easily return even when progress has been made against it. As Médecines Sans Frontières (MSF) noted, there is a risk of complacency, as well as distrust of the health system and low awareness of the disease in the local population. According to Claudia Evers MSF’s coordinator in Guinea:

“People are afraid of the virus, and many in the community have lost confidence in the health system.”

Attention to hygienic practices is particularly important since schools have opened after a six-month interruption in the affected areas, and for some of them clean water to wash hands isn’t readily available.

 As MSF pointed out in a statement, even a slight increase in the number of patients has to be addressed, as it’s “testament to the fact that Ebola can again rear its head.”
From the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 24,000 people have been infected with Ebola, and over 9,700 have died from the disease. Of those, only seven were diagnosed outside West Africa.
This article first appeared in Quartz.

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